So far we have Detroit and Orlando as the cream of the crop, but we save the best for last as we head to the Atlantic. In a league of parity, this division leaves little doubt that there is one great team, two really good teams, an up-and-coming team and probably the worst team in basketball. I usually get really excited about division match-ups, but in this division I would rather watch these teams play outside of it, except for some great Boston/Philly games I can't wait to see. Time to check out how it will play out.
1. Boston Celtics
If you know me, you know I was never sold on Boston last year. I was wrong and I know a legitimate champion when I see one, and this team is legit. The best trio in the Eastern Conference will have another stellar year, despite Ray Allen getting up there in age. The bench which features a surprisingly good Glenn Davis, sharpshooter Eddie House and the versatile Leon Powe. If those guys can play well enough to keep some minutes off the Big Threes' legs, than Boston could go deep in to the post-season again.
Team MVP: Kevin Garnett - I know it was Paul Pierce who had the playoff heroics, but Pierce could not win without Garnett. It is no coincidence the Celtics captured gold when Garnett entered town. He is a 20-10 guy every night and stretches the floor with his shot.
Rising Star: Rajon Rondo - I know he already broke out last year, but expect even more this year. He has his ring and his swagger so I expect his defensive tenacity to translate on the offensive side very nicely. He could already pass, now watch him score a lot more.
Falling Star: Sam Cassell - I thought he would bow out after winning a ring, but he thinks he has another season left in him. I don't seem him being very effective, in fact, expect a lot of turnovers and missed shots. On good nights, he will give the team a solid 15 minutes.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Talk about a team licking their lips just waiting for the Celtics to slip. If one of the Big Three on Boston go down for an extended period of time, this team is going to push hard. Just thinking about a full season of Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Louis Williams, Sam Dalembert and Elton Brand running the floor has to put some fear in Eastern Conference teams. This team knows how to defend off the ball (not so much on the ball) and they know how to run. If Jason Smith and more importantly Thaddeus Young continue to improve, this team is going to win a lot of games.
Team MVP: Andre Iguodala - If this was the end of the year I think I would be saying Elton Brand, but it's not. Iguodala knows this team inside and out, and at least for the first half of they year, it will be his team to lead. If Brand is healthy, I expect Iguodala to willing give up that role.
Rising Star: Louis Williams - The NBA keeps getting better and better "sixth-men" and this guy was one of them. This team struggles to shoot, but this guy does not. Do yourself a favor and watch this guy play if you haven't seen him yet. Could win "sixth-man" if he stays on the bench.
Falling Star: Donyell Marshall - Donyell used to be the Marshall of the 3-point line, but he is 35 and it's starting to show. I think he will be OK to stretch a defense coming off the bench, but his speed and defense have dramatically declined.
3. Toronto Raptors
Everyone is talking about the duo of Chris Bosh and Jermaine O' Neal and with good reason, but lets not forget about the duo of Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker. Calderon can do a little bit of everything and Parker continues to be grossly underrated as he plays very solid on-the-ball defense and can create shots for others very well. O'Neal is going to bolster a defense that already boasts Bosh and Jamario Moon's shot blocking abilities. Bargnani and the rest of the bench need to prove they can ball, or this team will always be floating in the middle of the Atlantic Division.
Team MVP: Jose Calderon - I know what you're thinking, what about Bosh. If Bosh goes down they have O'Neal and Moon. If Calderon goes down, they have no one. He is a great point guard and if he falls, so will the team.
Rising Star: Jamario Moon - He is like a young Kenyon Martin. He runs, dunks and defends. This year he needs to learn what I call Martin's Law. You can't just block shots, you need to defend on the ball. That lesson made Kenyon Martin an All-NBA defender multiple times. Most high-flyers are content with swatting shots, Martin is a rare breed, and Moon could be too.
Falling Star: None - The reason this team does not have a falling star is because they don't have stars. There are some older players who have been below average their whole career and they have young unproven players. Scary looking bench.
4. New Jersey Nets
I don't care I am picking them to finish fourth, this is going to be a fun team to watch. I absolutely love Devin Harris. He is the quickest player in the league as far as breaking down one-on-one defense. Vince Carter still is fun to watch, though he is declining and after that they have a lot of good, young talent. The problem is it is all good, and nothing great beyond Harris and Carter. The defense should be better with the addition of Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes and Josh Boone and Sean Williams cleaning up down low. Yi Jianlian could break out after showing promise last year, but they just don't have the experience with each other yet.
Team MVP: Devin Harris - This is a guard that will defend, create shots for others and break ankles all day taking it to the rim. He is quietly one of the best point guards in the league, and I would say the best in the Atlantic Division.
Rising Star: Chris-Douglas Roberts - As I have said before, I don't like throwing this out to rookies, but this guy has a glass ceiling. He can be as good as he wants on both ends of the floor as soon as he wants. If he is focused and working hard, he will be starting really soon.
Falling Star: Bobby Simmons - It is hard for me to say this since he is a former Buck, but at 28, he seems lost. Sometimes he is in shape, sometimes he isn't. Most nights he shoots more than he should and is uninterested on defense. He is throwing it all away.
5. New York Knicks
Well, they don't have Isaiah Thomas so that is exciting. They have Mike D' Antoni on the sidelines so they will TRY to be exciting on offense. Their two "beasts" down low Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph are terrible at defense. Fans can take faith that guys like David Lee, Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler are going to bust it on a nightly basis. It's hard to even write about a team that just doesn't care all that much. Getting rid of Randolph, Curry and Stephon Marbury would be a huge breath of fresh air for this team, but that won't happen. All I can say is enjoy any win they might get, because they will be few and far between.
Team MVP: Nate Robinson - Thats right people. He defends as best he can with his size and he gives the fans a show every night, on a team this bad, that means you're the MVP. I would say Jamal Crawford, but he looks less interested with every passing preseason game. I hope he turns it around.
Rising Star: David Lee - When Lee is on the floor, Randolph becomes much better. Lee stretches the floor, hits the glass and brings some speed to the front court. Too bad he can't answer the defensive woes.
Falling Star: Stephon Marbury - He is $20.8 million of headaches and lack of hustle. Even when he is at his best, he is a two guard, not a point guard. The offense can't get in a rhythm because he looks for his own shot before his teammates. Fat contract and skinny production equals long year.
So the Atlantic Division is going to be awesome when Boston and Philly play each other, but other than that, not a whole lot is there. I think the Nets will put on fun games, but this division just is not as interesting as the Midwest or Southeast. But thats OK, because we are getting ready to head West. Stay tuned for the Northwest.